Opening Words from Sun. May 14 by Melodee DuBois

Good morning! The last time I gave Opening Words was in August, 2019, on the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock. I relayed the amazing experience I had there, which planted some important seeds for my future humanistic values. That was 1969, and a few years later I had another transformative experience which helped shape me as one who “ believes that I am part of this earth, that I cherish it and all the life upon it”…to quote our fourth core value. I discovered Francis Lappe’s cookbook, Diet for a Small Planet, about eating a plant-based diet.

Today, I’m going to talk about my espousal of the plant-based or vegan lifestyle. So what is veganism? Simply put, it means that you don’t consume any animal products. But Why? Why give up hamburgers, shrimp, cheese and ice cream? Well, everyone’s journey is a bit different, but all vegans have some combination of caring deeply about three things: one’s personal health; the good of our planet; and the welfare of all animals.

In my case, I’ll start with caring about my personal health. I watched my grandfather and father die at ages younger than I am now from cardiac issues. Both were told by their doctors to alter their Midwest diets and to curtail all the meat, butter, eggs, cream, and gravies we regularly ate. By my college years, along with Diet for a Small Planet, I found studies from the Cleveland and Mayo Clinics showing how those who ate a plant-based diet had far lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even some cancers. By the way, a number of top athletes are vegans, including tennis greats, Serena and Venus Williams and basketball legend LeBron James. And I’m totally convinced that my vegan diet, coupled with daily exercise, has kept me in such great health into my mid-70’s.

Now a bit about the impact on the planet. For starters, you may be surprised to learn that it takes 16 lbs. of grain to feed the livestock to produce 1 lb. of meat for us. Think about that! And the amounts of water used to service the factory-farms are enormous – in California, 47% of its water usage goes to support the factory-farming industry. Also, the run-off from the manure lagoons have polluted over 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states.

Of course, there are also the very adverse and cruel effects on animals. To be clear, there are better choices that are far more humane if you don’t want to go totally vegan. There’s a huge difference in eating healthy eggs from your farmer’s market backyard chickens than from the super-market eggs that come from factory farm stacked cages where the chickens are so pumped full of hormones that their legs often break under their weight.

But unfortunately, the big corporate factory farms have all but monopolized the farming industry. In fact, over 98% of all pork, chicken, and turkey and 70% of beef eaten in the US come from dark and dank indoor cages and stockades on factory farms.

Now, we generally don’t change our behavior unless we decide to educate ourselves about the effects of our behavior. The better informed we are, the better life choices we can make. Look at how dramatically this nation’s culture of smoking has changed over the years, as we all became educated about smoking’s harmful effects. Likewise, with our lower usage of gas-guzzling vehicles, and also our dietary and health choices.

I mentioned earlier some notable athletes who are vegans, and there are many others in high-profile positions who are as well, such as Paul McCartney, Bill Clinton, Ellen Degeneres, Cory Booker, and Ariana Grande. I could say much more about why I’m such a passionate vegan advocate, but our time is limited today. I AM happy to chat further with any of you over a cup of coffee. Thank you.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.